A celebrated Savannah host returns to his roots in a new cookbook. Photos by Jason B. James
When Johnathon Scott Barrett was a young’un, growing up in Perry, Georgia, his father would roust him for the summer harvest by belting out hymns and Bible verses. “Rise and shine!” his dad would crow.
But the “stoop labor” of picking okra, corn and peas on the family farm didn’t truck with the then-teenaged J.B., who headed off to the greener pastures of business school as soon as he could shake that sandy loam off his shoes.
“I was fine if I left and never had another butter bean,” J.B. recalls over a steaming flat white and hearty bowl of muesli at the Collins Quarter.
His path took him from Georgia Southern University into a career as a certified public accountant—and, ultimately, to vice president of statewide operations for Junior Achievement in Georgia. Along the way, J.B. found himself traveling and dining all over the country and abroad, throwing dinner parties of his own, and making a name for himself as the quintessential Savannah host.
And then, a funny thing happened.
The more he sampled coq au vin in France, ate paella in the Caribbean, and served up his inimitable Ossabaw buco, the more he realized something his big-hearted family had known all along.
“Southern food prepared simply is so very good,” he readily admits. “Our cuisine stacks up with the best of them.”
As J.B. drove back and forth over Georgia’s back roads for work, he used the time alone to reflect. The more he started reminiscing, the more he kept returning to Perry.
“I would gladly be out in the pea patch again with my parents if they were here,” J.B. says, his eyes glistening.
He began writing down his family’s and friends’ stories, and memory after memory rolled off his fingertips. Intertwined among the Sunday suppers, fishing trips and holiday spreads were the recipes: Aunt Lil’s apple tarts; his mama’s blackberry, fig, and pear jams; Nanny Carrie’s buttermilk biscuits and cane syrup, and, yes, Southern-style butter beans.
They all came together in Mr. Barrett’s opus, Rise and Shine! A Southern Son’s Treasury of Food, Family and Friends (Mercer University Press 2015). The book reads as one-part memoir, one-part cookbook—and as a Valentine to the extended family that bequeathed him a love of good food and graciousness. It’s an inheritance he carries still, from his fabulous cocktail parties to the grand galas he plans for Junior Achievement.
“I like to entertain,” he says. “I like to cook. No matter what culture you come from, you need food, just like you need love.”
Johnathon Scott Barrett
Author, Rise and Shine: A Southern Son’s Treasury of Food, Family and Friends (Mercer University Press 2015)
The quintessential Savannah host must always … have a fully stocked bar.
My philosophy is … success is in the details.
I love the smell of … bacon.
I can never say “no” to a plate of … fried pork chops. That’s what my mom would cook for me when I came home.
It’s the zombie apocalypse, and I’m hoarding … peanut butter.
My signature cocktail is … a Manhattan with a real maraschino cherry.
My guilty pleasure is … breakfast for supper with homemade biscuits and syrup.
My best ideas come when I am … driving across Georgia, especially on some rural, secondary road.
I’m addicted to … fun-loving people.
My five dream dinner guests are … Tim Russert, Julia Child, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, and Dolly Parton.
When I arrive at the Pearly Gates, I want St. Peter to serve me … a bowl of my father’s homemade peach ice cream.
The Best of Savannah is … listening to Johnny Mercer, lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ and a stroll through Bonaventure Cemetery in the spring, when the azaleas are at their peak.